We share this article by Somashis Gupta as a tribute to legendary Gautam Chattopadhyay on the occasion of his Birth Anniversary which was on 1st of June. This story celebrates his life as a singer and film maker.
It was a Sunday afternoon sometime in 95. ‘Abar Bochor Kuri Pore’ finds its place in my tape recorder. ‘Prithibi’ starts with the sound of Base guitar and Piano. I was in heaven. This is how I was introduced to Mohiner Ghora Guli, which inspires me even today. Who are these Ghoras? I thought to myself. I wanted to know more about the band and found out….
60s and 70s were different times. Those were time when the city of joy was at despair and aspire simultaneously. Times of anger and love, it was a Calcutta in the throes of a raging Naxalite Movement that had seized the imaginations of its young and old, rich and poor; it was a Calcutta grappling with its turbid past, an uncertain present but a hopeful future.
Seven young men, growing in this environment, decided to show their protest. They protested but not with violence but with a musical revolution, a revolution in the form of the first ever rock band in India singing Bangla Rock, a genre alien not only to Bengal but the entire country. Their songs spoke about sordid realities and futile urban dreams propelled by a burgeoning capitalist State to merry, soulful tunes.
The seven, called themselves ‘Saptarshi’. But their wish was to give a nonsense name inspired from the British group ‘The Beatles’. One day, during rehearsals, they read ‘Ghora’ from the book Shatti Tarar Timir by Jibanananda Das. The second line of the poem reads as “মহীনের ঘোড়াগুলো ঘাস খায় কার্তিকের জ্যোৎস্নার প্রান্তরে;” ( Moheen’s horses graze on the horizon, in the Autumn moonlight). They found their name and thus Mohiner Ghora Guli was born. The same poem influenced them to compose Bhalo lage, the gentlest protest song which does not protest gently though.
More similar songs like “Runway jure pore ache shudhu kau nai shunnota”, “Kotha Bhule Manushera gaiche gan” were composed which were not just songs but also picture stories depicting the time. In 1977 they recorded their first album Shongbigno Pakhikul o Kolkata Bishayak (which roughly translates to ‘An agitated flock of birds and Calcutta’).
But the Ghoras soon realized they were far ahead of their times. The Bengali ear had not matured enough to understand this new form of amazing music. The diabolical minds of some of the critics were insufficiently cultivated to comprehend the meaning of these songs. One such nincompoop critic wrote “Bengali Pelvis Presley r nachon kudon dekhlam, ara TV tey komor dulia dulia kobider kobider kobitay shur dia gailen”(Saw the dance of Bengali Pelvis Prisley, they took poems of poets and sang with their own tunes)
In spite of the absence of an appreciative audience that remained largely estranged from western music — even more so from sounds that blended it with local, familiar tunes of folk, baul, among others — the Ghoras were not demoralized. They replied with a song “Bhalo koira dekhoto amare Elvis lage kin a, Ami kala Banglar Pola Mohiner ek Ghora”(Watch carefully if I look like Elvis, I am a Bengali Boy who is a horse of Mohin).
Later they released their second album with a back cover which had all the comments and abuses which they received from these critics. But the band barely received widespread recognition back in the day. Nevertheless, it remains undisputed that the group was not just India’s first known rock band, but also its first musical group to function as a well-defined band.
So who were the Ghoras? They were Pradip (Bula), Biswanath (Bishu), Ranjon Ghoshal, Tapas Das (Bapi), Abraham Mazumder , Tapesh Bandopadhyay (Bhanu) and the legend – Gautam Chattopadhyay, a student of Physiology at Calcutta’s Presidency College. Gautam was a restless young man. His political ambitions blossomed in the backdrop of the Naxalite Movement. Such ideas landed him in prison in 1970-71. Brutal torture ensued.
After he was released he had to flee the city and seek refuge in Jabalpur and Bhopal. It was here life introduced him to the love of his life Minoti. In later years after they got married, the couple returned to Calcutta. Music, however, kept him loyal company through every phase. He organized himself and fellow music enthusiasts into functional bands wherever he went. He formed ‘The Urge’ with his Anglo-Indian friends in college. Even while on the run he formed ‘Blindfold’ with his comrades.
Gautam Chattopadhyay was not just a songwriter, composer, singer and a musician, his artistic talent also found its way in film making. His film ‘Nagmoti’ was awarded the Best Feature Film in Bengali in 1983. The movie revolves around the life of nomadic snake worshipping gypsies known as ‘Bede’ in the Ganga river delta. The famous song ‘Doriay Ailo Tufan’ which still finds its place in any band performance is a song from this movie. It was sung by Paban Das Baul.
For me Gautam Chattapodhyay has been an enormous inspiration. His music has and will find a place close to my heart. I even dared to sing one of his compositions with my broken bamboo voice. I share this small tribute on the 0ccassion of his birth anniversary which was on 1st of June.
Long live Monida
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.